Getting Ready to Play
Before you begin planning play dates, I suggest truly assessing if your child is ready for peer interactions. When children are ready I see that they are interested in their peers and they can appropriately play with several different types of toys. If your child is not quite there, practice these foundational skills. Also, it is important to find a peer who is a good fit. Your child’s teacher or care provider can help guide you to the a peer that is a good match. Sometimes the children that your child naturally gravitates towards may not be the best match. Finally, reach out to the other child’s parents and explain why you are looking for a play date partner. Be honest about the strengths and challenges that your child has. In my experience, I have found that sharing your concerns and expectations with other parents goes a long way in creating more successful social situations.
Let’s Play! Tips for Preschool Aged Children
- Create a schedule for play. Keep the activities short, and make sure they are activities that your child is familiar and independent with. Create a visual representation of your schedule by drawing a simple picture schedule. When children know what to expect, and that there will be a clearly defined end, they are more likely to successful.
- Avoid large open places for play dates. While parks are fun, they are not ideal for trying to facilitate social interactions. Having a play date at home, or in a neutral, small space is a better option.
- If sharing toys is a challenge, talk with your child about toys that are “share toys” and “no share toys.” Have them put away toys that they will be unable to share with their friend and remind them that they picked the “share toys” if challenges arise.
- Practice, practice, practice! Before the play date, work together on the activities that they will be playing so that your child is confident. If the play date is at someone else’s house, bring along those games and toys.
- Keep the play date short. For a child this age, 30 minutes would be plenty of time. That may be even too long for some children. The important thing is to end on a positive note. If you sense things are becoming overwhelming, it is best to wrap up. Parents often tell me that they do not like having 15 minute play dates because they feel “bad” that a parent brought their child over and such a short play date could be an inconvenience. However, I find that most parents are okay with this if they are told upfront and that you are honest with them.
- Stay engaged! Children with special needs require adult support for social facilitation. It will help keep your child engaged and it will help the peer as well if your child is having trouble responding or maintaining play.
- Lastly, preview a “Play Date Social Story” with your child before all play dates. This can be easily created to include what will happen, what are the expected behaviors, and what your child can do if he or she is feeling stressed. Make sure to end your story with language that play dates are FUN!
Social Story Support
Creating a Visual Schedule
Developing Play Skills for Children with Communication & Social Needs
Make Play R.O.C.K: Booklet Series